Extraordinary Mythical Beasts That May Have Really Existed

All over the world, different cultures have legends of mythical beasts that stalk the land. Often, these creatures are large and misshapen. They’re frequently said to be guarding treasure or are malicious and bloodthirsty, on the hunt for both animals are humans. Some famous mythic creatures include dragons, the Minotaur, mermaids, and more, but there are many that most people don’t know about. Although many of these mythical beasts are fantastical and only exist in stories, take a look at how some of these legends may actually be based in reality.

The Hydra May Have Been A Multi-Headed Snake

Hercules against the Hydra
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In Greek mythology, Hercules battles and defeats a multi-headed snake beast known as a Hydra. The creature proved to be increasingly difficult to beat, as every time Hercules cut off one of its heads, another grew in its place.

While it’s unlikely there were any massive multi-headed beasts with regenerating heads in Ancient Greece, snakes around the world are known to have a condition known as polycephaly, in which they have two or three heads, and are completely healthy. Although they’re rare, it’s not impossible for someone to have stumbled upon one and turned it into a myth.

Vampires May Just Be A Misunderstanding

Nosferatu movie
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In modern popular culture, most people associate vampires with blood-drinking figures, such as Dracula, who sleep in coffins during the day and hunt at night. However, classic stories about vampires usually involved a lot of people dying at once, with their deaths being blamed on someone who was already diseased.

When these bodies were exhumed from their coffins, it appears that their nails and hair had continued to grow and they sometimes had blood in their mouths. These tales could be associated with a lack of knowledge about bodily decay and how the body tends to purge fluid from the mouth, and hair seems to grow because the skin shrinks.

Giant Apes Are Absolutely Real

Painting of a gorilla
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although we have our own modern concept of massive apes such as King Kong, in the past, there have been myths about large apes in areas such as the jungles of Africa. Over centuries of exploration throughout these areas, not only did researchers hear tales from local tribes about these massive creatures, but some claimed to have seen them with their own eyes. However, they were largely dismissed as hoaxes.

Although many of the stories had been exaggerated, in 1847, it was revealed that the myths about these apes were true, and upon discovery they were referred to as gorillas.

The Jersey Devil Dates Back Hundreds Of Years

Drawing of the Jersey Devil
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, there is a legend of the Jersey Devil. According to the myth, the creature was the 13th child of a woman named Mrs. Leeds in the 18th century. Supposedly, she didn’t want any more children and cursed her unborn child who later developed bat wings and hooves.

Although the reported sightings have different variations, common features include long legs, bat wings, and a long head. While some believe that the creature could possibly be a sandhill crane, others believe it could be a hammerhead bat. The only problem with this theory is that these bats are native to Africa and not North America.

Sea Serpents Could Have Been Ancient Sharks

Frilled Shark in the water
Awashima Marine Park/Getty Images
Awashima Marine Park/Getty Images

Almost every seafaring culture has some reference to sea serpents that harassed sailors with their size and terrifying teeth. From North mythology to religions such as Judaism and Christianity, these creatures can be found in cultures throughout the world.

Some people have concluded that these mythological creatures could actually have been something else. The myths might be about the oldest-living shark species, known as the frilled shark. Their shocking appearance and unusual teeth make them the perfect contender for the birth of the sea serpent myth. Often referred to as a “living fossil,” they have barely changed in over 80 million years.

Voodoo Zombies Were The Result Of Toxins

Voodoo dance
SeM/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
SeM/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For centuries, there have been rumors of humans being raised from the dead to do the bidding of voodoo practitioners. While they may not have feasted on flesh like modern zombies, they appeared to be mindless undead beings.

In the 1980s, researcher Wade Davis traveled to Haiti to see these “zombies” for himself. According to Harper’s Magazine, the “zombies” weren’t dead at all, but unsuspecting victims that were dosed with tetrodotoxin found in the pufferfish that causes paralysis like death that wears off in a few days. When they would come to, Davis believed they were given powerful psychoactive substances to make them obedient.

The Little Green Men Of Kentucky Might Not Be Men at All

Great Horned Owl
Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On August 21, 1955, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, there were 11 different reports, many from a family called the Suttons, about small creatures that almost resembled goblins. They were described as being around three feet tall, with arms that reached their feet and large ears on top of an oversized head.

Although they went to the police, their claims were ignored. However, researcher Joe Nickell investigated the matter and came up with his own theory. He proposed that these “little green men” described by the Suttons were actually great horned owls that looked strikingly similar to the drawings provided.

Japanese River Monsters Are Still Around Today

Japanese giant salamander
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images

In Japanese folklore, there are amphibious creatures described to be the size of small children that roam in the rivers and streams. Known to be mischievous and sometimes harmful to humans, they have even been featured in modern pop cultures such as anime and video games.

It’s believed that many of these sightings are based on a real animal, which is the Japanese giant salamander. Today, these creatures are incredibly rare and endangered and are protected by the Japanese government.

Sirens Could Be Ordinary Sea Creatures

Tiling of a Siren
Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In Greek mythology, Sirens are dangerous creatures that would lure sailors to the rocky coast with their enchanting music. Sirens have been described in a variety of ways ranging from half-bird half-woman creatures to beings that gave way to the modern image of a mermaid.

While these sound like nothing more than a myth as seen in Homer’s The Odyssey, modern researchers have proposed that the legend may have come from sea creatures such as manatees. According to the Smithsonian Ocean, they have large wing-like flippers with the ability to turn their heads to the side like humans. It’s also possible that Sirens are no more than a sailor’s hallucinations.

The Wendigo May Have Been All In Their Heads

Painting of a Wendigo
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The wendigo is a mythological man-eating or evil spirit from the folklore of the First Nation Algonquian tribes of Canada and the United States. It has been described as a monster with human characteristics and as a spirit known to possess human beings.

In the modern age, the medical term Wendigo psychosis has been established and is described by psychiatrists as a culture-bound syndrome with symptoms such as insatiable greed or the desire to consume human flesh. So, more likely than not, the wendigo was manifested by the collective culture of the First Nation tribes.

Ginormous Sharks Are No Myth

Megalodon tooth
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

In ancient civilizations all over the world, there are myths of monstrous sharks. One, in particular, is that of the Mayans, who have a creation myth saying that the god Tezcatlipoca killed a giant sea monster with one tooth, and then he and Quetzalcoatl made the Earth from the monster’s body.

Such a story isn’t totally unbelievable if the Mayan people had discovered the tooth of the prehistoric megalodon shark. This ancient ancestor of modern sharks is believed to have lived over 2.5 million years ago and was far larger than the great white sharks of today.

The Infamous Kraken May Have Been Slightly Exaggerated

Drawing of a kraken
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

All over the globe, there have been myths of a monstrous sea creature with tentacles that is known as the Kraken. With some myths dating back more than 2,000 years, legend has it that this creature is so large and vicious that it has been known to drag ships to the bottom of the sea.

Yet, many experts believe that the myth of the Kraken came from sailors having encounters with giant squid, which are real. Although they’re rare, giant squid can grow to be more than 30 feet long and weigh more than 400 pounds.

The Griffin Could Have Been A Dinosaur

Picture of a griffin
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

The mythical griffin is described as half-eagle and half-lion with a beak and talons. The legend of the griffin dates back to Ancient Egypt. The creatures were considered to be both fierce guards of treasure as well as symbols of wisdom and power.

Folklore historian Adrienne Mayor has theorized that the story of the griffin was born out of ancient gold miners who stumbled across the fossil of a dinosaur called a protoceratops, which had four legs and a beak. So, they may have created the image of a griffin, and assumed it was protecting the gold.

The Chupacabra

Drawing of a Chupacabra
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A more modern monster, the Chupacabra is a legendary creature in the folklore of the Americas with the first reported sightings being in Puerto Rico. Its name translates to mean “goat-sucker” for its supposed habit of sucking the blood of livestock and sometimes humans.

Although descriptions vary, it is reported to be the size of a small bear with scaly skin and a row of spines from its neck to its tail. As horrifying as this sounds, Chupacabra sightings have mostly been chalked up to wild coyotes suffering from the skin disease mange, which explains the creature’s scaly appearance and its predation on livestock.

The Cyclops Myth May Have Come From An Old Skeleton

Image of a cyclops
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In many legends, particularly Greek mythology, cyclops are large one-eyed monsters that have been featured in works such as The Odyssey. Furthermore, many cyclops myths are set on or around the isle of Crete, which is where a species of dwarf mammoths once lived.

Historians believe that the myths surrounding the cyclops were created after ancient Greek explorers discovered the skulls of these small mammoths that have a large central socket for their trunks. To the ancient people, this could have looked like an oversized humanoid skull with one eye, sparking the myth of the cyclops.

Everybody Loves Dragons

George and the dragon
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Dragons are mythical beasts that can be found in cultures all over the world and are still incredibly popular today. These massive, fire-breathing, flying reptiles have captivated humans for thousands of years.

However, the origin of dragon myths is still a debated topic ranging from now-extinct giant crocodiles to the discovery of dinosaur bones. Others speculate that dragon myths could come from sightings of Komodo dragons, which are large, venomous predatory reptiles that are native to Indonesia.

The Loch Ness Monster Has Attracted Thousands Of Tourists

Photo of the Loch Ness Monster
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Beneath the waters of Scotland’s Loch Ness is said to be the home of a creature known as the Loch Ness Monster, or “Nessie.” Thousands have claimed to have seen this amphibious beast with theorists believing that it could be a mutated creature or a living fossil.

While many mythical beasts have real-life counterparts, the explanation behind the Loch Ness Monster is most likely a pile of sticks or debris floating on the surface that resembles a plesiosaur, a long-necked water-dwelling dinosaur.

Mothman

Statue of Mothman -171019547
Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post
Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post

On November 15, 1966, four young adults were driving home when they saw two red lights in the shadows of the West Virginia Ordnance Works building. Stopping to investigate, they claim to have seen a six to seven-foot-tall creature resembling a man with wings that proceeded to fly after them in their car.

Over the next year, there were over 100 sightings of what became known as “Mothman” in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Later that year, a West Virginia professor went on record saying the “Mothman” was most likely a rare species of crane that had fallen out of its migration route.

The Jackalope Is Said To Be Extinct

Jackalope -583874114
Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images
Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

The Jackalope is a crossbreed between a rabbit and an antelope that has been spotted across the United States. According to legend, Jackalopes only mate during electrical storms, can be caught using whiskey as bait, and their milk is said to have medicinal properties.

Myths about Jackalopes most likely came about from sightings of rabbits infected with Shope papillomavirus, which causes growths that almost look like horns. Although they’re said to be extinct, specimens can be found in taxidermy shops although they are probably not real.

The Beast Of Bladenboro Was Nothing More Than A Bobcat

Drawing of the beast
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The legend of the Beast of Bladenboro came about in late 1953 in Bladenboro, North Carolina, after a series of unexplained attacks. Supposedly, the culprit was a huge catlike beast, with one farmer claiming to have seen the creature scurry off carrying his dog, and several carcasses later being found drained of blood.

Hunters then came from all over to hunt this “vampire beast.” Eventually, a bobcat was shot and the attacks came to a halt. Of course, to this day, some say they have seen the Beast of Bladenboro.